How to stay sane in an age of division?

2 min readNov 28, 2022

The Wellcome Trust have a great series of books exploring the complexities of the human condition, and one of these is Elif Shafak’s “How to stay sane in an age of division”. I’ve written before about how our hopes and fears are being privatised, and as a result, we end up preferring the quick fixes of consuming because we fear freedom and that even random acts of kindness are consequences of this.

1. Privatising our hopes and fears

We have a discourse dominated by political “consumerism (that) cleverly compensates us for the loss of our collective ability to act. Like any form of compensation, it gives us the rewards we readily embrace.”

Populist leaders compensate for their lack of collective ability to act by personalising the political and politicising the personal. Rather than devolving power to local communities and democracy, they frame themselves as saviours by hyper-emotional proximity and circumstantial melodrama. Rather than enabling people to take control of their lives and shape a better society together, they frame themselves as gatekeepers through blind hyperactivism and instrumentalisation of victims. However, this non-politics is an ideological smokescreen hiding the market's invisible hand and the state's paternalist clutch.

2. Spreading the virus of anxiety

Even as humans, we see more and more negative news and information. We are drawn to it to learn how to protect ourselves from the virus better or help us avoid making bad decisions — whether reading about housing or the labour market. We are also drawn into negative information by our loved ones and networks to find out what’s wrong and to be able to help them.

Evidence shows the more negative information people see, the more they post negative information themselves; this spreads anxiety across social networks and means we live in constant fear.

Organisations, too, are increasingly emotional, reacting to events to struggle for survival — whether they are shops on the high street or social services, who respond to help people in crisis.

3. How do we create consensus?

Creating a consensus has always been a critical challenge for democracy. More than ever, the public space is riven by conflict and stagnation — refusal of the other and refusal of change. And yet, the consensus is evermore critical at a time when difficult decisions need to be made about how to tackle pensions, climate change, national identity, etc. We need a “Welcome in my Back Yard” mindset. We need a joined-up society, but more importantly, a join-in society, and to do that, we need to:




Head of Policy Design, Scrutiny & Partnerships @newhamlondon #localgov Co-founder of #systemschange & #servicedesign progs. inspired by @cescaalbanese